ATA 58th Annual Conference: a review

This was my fourth conference, and once again I enjoyed conversations, sessions, and ATA and SLD events.

Cultural Code

This topic has been coming up repeatedly throughout the conference at the sessions (the amazing Three Stooges example from Nikolai Sorokin's talk) and on a personal level (knowing that others get the references). This is what copywriting and creative translation are about, in my view: that warm, fuzzy feeling of someone "getting it", from cultural references to worldview.
 

AST Day: Putting the Zing Back into Marketing Materials

Why attend a session on putting the zing into English texts (other than the fact that it is presented by Grant Hamilton)?

So far I have not been able to find any resources (online or otherwise) on writing appealing texts in Russian. There are multiple blog posts and articles on how to structure a marketing text (some excellent), and some on how to work with specific marketing-ese terms (a great one here), but I have not been able to find much on editing of translated marketing materials. While rules of creating an attractively zinging marketing translation into English are, of course, not the same as the rules for going into Russian, there is some overlap. 

I especially liked that the session incorporated some group exercise, helping one to get out of the little bubble of own stylistic preferences and get a reality check.

ESL or no ESL, it is quite obvious when a translation stops singing and starts squeaking.

Biases and preferences

Being able to discuss translation challenges with colleagues and compare approaches and solutions is invaluable. SLD's ATA Certification Exam Practice Group has been a great venue for this.

At the conference, we took it one step further with our translation slam.

SLD's Slams

This year SLD had two slams because of a session cancellation which have received an overwhelmingly positive response. Two slams (handouts available here: Ru>En and En>Ru) turned out to be quite different in format and approach.

While Ru>En was a more analytical one with moderated discussion, En>Ru as a substitute session was more of an invitation to comment on translation choices and discuss the tricky parts of the source text.

I am immensely grateful to Yulia Novikova-Wythe who has agreed to co-present at a slam. I’m not so sure I would have followed through in her place.

Slamming En>Ru: a Tricksy Text

Since this was a substitute session for a cancelled one, we did not have much time to find slam participants, agree on a text, produce translations and merge them into a handout. As a result, the source text was one of several “I am so glad I do not have to work on that text” samples I have at the back of my head. Working on it proved that it was categorized correctly.

Type of text: online copy with a syllabus of a self-help course for career transition

The challenges:

  • extremely colloquial style of writing
  • full of slang
  • lots of cultural references (Stan? Who's that?) throughout the text
  • NSWF references that might come across as cringe-worthy
  • undefined target audience for the translated text.

But this is not all…

The biggest challenge was actually figuring out what to do when the author:

  • starts with one metaphor and drops it in the middle of the paragraph to switch to a different one
  • uses a metaphor in a way that leaves the reader to guess at the starting point of the situation it describes
  • uses a number of metaphors in a quick succession interspersing them with cultural references and set phrases specific to English-speaking cultural space.

In a “real world” work scenario having a text like this would have setting up the criteria for working with cultural references, resolving logical inconsistencies and taking apart the metaphor mechanics with the client. In the “slam world” we were left to our own devices.

My approach was to tone down the register (I use the formal “you” in the translation, while Yulia has gone with the informal “you”), avoid too-contemporary references (I thought of getting the widely seen “…., Карл”, but thought it would define the target audience too specifically), and did the best I could to untangle the metaphors and keep the transitions clear for the reader.

In some cases it required stepping quite far outside of the “sentence-to-sentence accurate translation” zone, for example, when swapping cultural references for the ones recognizable in Russian-speaking cultural space (it is a sad fact that Karlsson did not become famous in the US).

Fear (not) Failure


One of the many interesting topics that came up at the conference is the difference in approaches to failure in educational settings.

Russian system is very much in the “an error is a sin” camp. Unfortunately, learning anything is hardly possible without making mistakes.

SLD members can learn by failing in monthly practice group sessions and by participating in virtual slams planned to start in 2018.

ATA Conference Planning

Planning to come to New Orleans?

  • Make a plan (Stan)
    It is entirely possible to spend most of the conference at the sessions and there is nothing wrong with it. However, depending on your goals, this might not be the best time investment.
    This year attendees’ lives were made considerably easier by bringing back recording of select sessions. Hope this will be the same next year!
  • Bring your own "Went Outside" achievement badges
    Unless you prioritize sightseeing, do not expect to see much of “outside world” during the conference. Alternatively, plan some outings and/or arrive a little early.
  • Embrace chaos
    Expect the big events to be just that – big. Especially the Job Fair.
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Over to you

What has been your experience this year? What would you advise to people planning their next year’s conference? How do you prepare for the conference and set goals?
Share this information in the comments!


Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations. English to Russian and German to Russian marketing translator, current SLD Administrator

Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations

English to Russian and German to Russian marketing and creative translations. Current SLD Administrator